For the past two weeks, the country has turned pink in recognition of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, increasing awareness of the disease and to raising funds for research into its cause, diagnosis, treatment and cure. October is also an important opportunity to help educate people about the importance of early detection and to offer support to those affected by breast cancer.
The challenge for all breast cancer nonprofits, from the smallest community foundation to the largest national organizations, is how do they stand out in this increasingly competitive market – especially during the key periods of the year?
The first step is to have a have firm answer to what seems like two easy questions, but questions that are often overlooked: Why should anyone care? And why is your organization the answer?
For those in the breast cancer nonprofit space, the answer to why anyone should care seems self-evident. Whether the nonprofit was formed to raise funds for research, or it is an organization that works directly with patients currently undergoing treatment, the importance of the cause is often personal. But for consumers who have not suffered from the disease, or have not been affected by breast cancer, all of the pink ribbons, pink products and survivor celebrations can create a sense of complacency.
The challenge is to breakthrough that complacency and ignite a sense of urgency. That’s exactly what Susan G. Komen is focused on. I have the privilege of serving on the Board of Susan G. Komen, so I am invested in creating a world without breast cancer. After more than three decades as the nation’s largest and most well-known breast cancer nonprofit, Komen became the victim of its own success because many Americans believed breast cancer was “solved” and no longer an urgent and critical issue.
To reignite the sense of urgency, they decided to tackle this misconception head on by reminding the public about the sad realities of the disease. More than 41,000 people in the U.S. are dying every year from breast cancer. African-American women diagnosed with breast cancer are more than 40 percent more likely to die from the disease than Caucasian women. And it’s the leading cause of cancer death for Hispanic women. That is unacceptable!
It’s not only important to communicate why the issue of breast cancer is important, you also have to clearly show what your organization is doing to make a difference. For some, that means showing the specific project the funds are supporting and connecting a donation directly to patient support or research grant.
For more sophisticated organizations like Komen, the challenge can be more difficult. What’s needed is to describe the impact in easy to understand ways, all pointing to unifying goal that is both inspiring and measurable. At Komen, we are working toward accomplishing our goal of reducing breast cancer deaths by 50% in the U.S. by 2026 and we are highlighting the stories of people who are participating in a variety of ways to help save a life.
Not only is Susan G. Komen the world’s largest breast cancer organization, funding more research than any other breast cancer non-profit, they also provide real-time help to millions of people in more than 30 countries worldwide, so patients can live better lives, longer. What separates Komen from other nonprofits is that this organization fights cancer across all fronts, including providing fact-based information to empower people to make informed health decisions, while ensuring that all people have access to quality screening, diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer. They advocate for government funding of critical patient support while creating a community that unites and supports everyone affected by breast cancer.
Yet clearly defining why you exist and what distinguishes your organization from the multitude of others in the space is only the first step. The second, and just as critical for long-term success, step is knowing clearly who your core supporters are and how they want to support you. This is where the importance of good data comes in. It is not good enough to say that your target audience is “anyone who cares or has been touched by breast cancer.”
In many ways, good nonprofits are technology companies. They understand how to segment their database of donors in a variety of ways, treating each donor how they want to be treated. Your donor that participates in an event, like a 5k walk, is much different than one that is likely to make a significant multiyear donation. And they are different than the young child of a survivor or the millennial that wants to donate online and engage through social media. They’re all important and unique – a one-sized strategy for communicating to them and asking for their support is a recipe for failure.
That’s where companies like ours can make such a big impact. When a nonprofit stops trying to speak to everyone and starts focusing on a smaller segments of any given audience, they have the opportunity to stand out from competitors. When supporters or donors can clearly identify with a brand, like Komen and the unique characteristics of that brand, they will choose to support that organization over a competitor that isn’t specifically speaking to or targeting them. The ability to stand out from competitors by reaching potential donors or supporters on a more personal, human level also creates longer-lasting relationships. When supporters or donors identify with a brand like Komen, and feel like the organization is an advocate for their specific perspectives and needs, they will likely be more loyal to and continue to invest in the relationship over a longer period of time.